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Brooke de Lench
Brooke de Lench
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Three Strikes, You're Out!

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Stories of embezzlement of funds from youth sports organizations appear in the media on a regular basis, but the latest story really takes the cake.  What is remarkable about it isn't that the person accused of embezzlement was the former president of a youth baseball or how much money he allegedly took ($16,000), but that he was allowed to take over as president despite a criminal background check which disclosed a prior conviction for embezzlement

According to the article in the September 10, 2008 Grand Rapids Press, court documents revealed that James Anderson, 42, actually had not one but two embezzlement convictions on his record, including one in 2003 for taking $20,000 from two mentally disabled adults for which he served a year in jail before being released on probation. The records showed that he was still on probation when he took over as president of the Allendale (MI) Township Youth Athletic Association in 2006 and the entire time he was alleged to have embezzled funds between January 1, 2007 and May 2008.

How, if the criminal background check disclosed one of the embezzlement convictions, was Anderson given another chance to stick his hand in the cookie jar?  Because, according to the Little League's new president, John Hanes, the association is "an all-volunteer group" that is forced to "take what it can get."

Take what it can get???

Mr. Anderson can't be serious!

Admittedly, most youths sports organizations operate with virtually no oversight beyond their volunteer boards of directors, and their often lax financial controls make them easy and tempting targets for thieves. Inviting a thief to become head of a youth sports organization when you know that he is a thief? He took what he could get, all right!

Because youth sports institutions have traditionally been self-regulating and independently financed, they often escape formal scrutiny or accountability. Youth sports program need to provide for greater input from parents, makes their mission statements, bylaws, and the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of board members and other administrators publicly available, provide for term limits for directors, holds open board meetings, and engage in benchmarking.

They also need to perform background checks on everyone associated with the program, including the volunteers, like Mr. Anderson, who appears to have been more than happy to volunteer to empty the Little League's coffers, like a kid being given the keys to the candy store.

But what good are background checks if the results are ignored?

Shame on the board of directors of the Allendale Township Youth Athletic Association for appointing Mr. Anderson president knowing that he had been convicted of embezzlement.

Shame on Mr. Hanes for trying to excuse the board's breach of its duties to the parents and kids in the program by saying that the association somehow had to take a thief off the street because it couldn't find anyone else.